Are you an egg-spert?

PUBLISHED: 14:49 23 July 2010 | UPDATED: 08:36 28 March 2014

Free range chickens

Free range chickens

How much do you know about your feathered friends? Try our fun quiz and
see if you have counted your chickens before they’ve hatched! 

Which of these hens would you expect to provide a regular supply of eggs, and also be suitable for a beginner?
(a) Indian Game
(b) Black Rock
(c) Silkie

How could you tell what colour eggs a hen is likely to lay?
(a) By the colour of her plumage
(b) By the colour of her legs
(c) By the colour of her ear lobes

Why would you require a cockerel?
(a) To get revenge on annoying neighbours
(b) So that the hens lay eggs
(c) To fertilise eggs

You need to register with DEFRA if you have:
(a) Any poultry at all
(b) Over 50 birds at any one time
(c) At least 100 chickens

The family are keen to get away for a few days, but what about the hens?
(a) They’ll be fine if you leave them enough food and water
(b) You explain to the family that holidays are now out of the question
(c) You ask a neighbour to look after them, or pay an ‘animal sitter’

What should you not feed to poultry?
(a) Table scraps
(b) Lettuces and cabbages
(c)  Bread

You’ve been told that chickens need to have grit available. Why is this?
(a) To make strong eggshells
(b) To sharpen their beaks
(c) To help grind their food

You notice quantities of grey dust in the henhouse. Is this because:
(a) The hens have been having a lot of dust baths recently
(b) The bedding is dusty
(c) You have an attack of red mite

One of your hens has lumpy looking legs. Do you suspect:
(a) Scaly leg
(b) Arthritis
(c) Bumble foot

Why do chickens need dust baths?
(a) For relaxation
(b) To clean their feathers and skin
(c) To try to disguise themselves from predators

It’s spring, and one or two hens have lost several feathers from their backs. What is most likely to be the cause?
(a) Depluming mite
(b) An over-attentive cockerel
(c) Moult


of the hens has been sitting in the nest box all day and refuses to

come out. She looks puffed up and her breast feels hot. Do you suspect:
(a) She’s egg-bound
(b) She’s ill
(c) She’s broody

Your broody hen has settled on the eggs and is sitting well – too well. She hasn’t left the nest at all. What should you do?
(a) Leave her alone
(b) Offer her some food and water in situ
(c) Remove her from the nest to feed and drink

How long will your broody need to sit on a clutch of chicken eggs before they start to hatch?
(a) 28 days
(b) 21 days
(c) 35 day

Out of a clutch of 10 chicks, seven have turned out to be cockerels. What is likely to be the most practical option?
(a) To cull them, or grow them on as table birds
(b) Try to rehome them
(c) Let them stay with the flock


late summer and two hens have gone broody, taking over two nest boxes

and causing chaos in the henhouse. Some eggs are getting broken, and

others are being sat on by the broodies. What would be the best course

of action?
(a) Put up with it, and let the hens sort themselves out
(b) Put the broodies to sit on some eggs
(c) Remove the broody hens to a separate run, where there’s nowhere to sit


autumn and a few of the hens are beginning to look alarmingly

bedraggled. Their combs are shrinking, and they’ve lost all their tail

feathers. Do you suspect:
(a) They’re moulting
(b) It’s old age
(c) They’ve got an infection

You need to catch one of the flightiest hens. Do you:
(a) Spend several hours stalking her
(b) Wait until she settles down in the henhouse for the night
(c) Chase her until one of you collapses with exhaustion

A sick hen needs to be put down. Will you:
(a) Do so, having been taught the correct humane technique
(b) Take her to the vet
(c) Do nothing, hoping she’ll recover eventually

So, have you counted your chickens before they’ve hatched?
To find out, check your answers below.

18-20. Congratulations! You are an egg-spert.
12-17.  You’re getting there.
0-11.   Read more copies of Poultry!


(b) Black Rocks are known as hardy, reliable layers of good sized brown

eggs. Indian Game have been developed as table birds, and are unlikely

to produce an abundance of eggs. Silkies are fluffy rather than

feathery, and very attractive, but they are not regarded as good layers,

and are famous for being obstinately broody.

Q2 (c) Hens with white ear lobes usually lay white eggs.


(c) The only reason for having a cockerel is to fertilise eggs for

breeding. Hens don’t need a cockerel to lay. Care should be taken that

neighbours are not disturbed by the birds. A complaint may mean that you

aren’t allowed to keep any hens at all.


(b) DEFRA need to be informed if you have more than 50 birds (including

chickens, ducks, guinea fowl, geese etc.) on the premises at any one

time during the year. There’s a registration form on their website.


(c) It’s worth giving some thought to this before deciding to keep

poultry. Even if holidays aren’t important, there are likely to be times

when you need to be away from home. A neighbour or friend might be

prepared to help, otherwise a professional ‘pet sitter’ may be needed.

Make sure that whoever is caring for the hens knows what is required,

and what to do should there be a problem. Poultry (or any animals)

should be checked at least daily, ideally twice, to ensure they are in

good health and have adequate food, water and shelter. Chickens need to

be securely shut in at dusk for protection from predators.


(a) Feeding table scraps to poultry is no longer allowed. Most green

vegetables are fine, and if hung up in the run will give the hens

something to peck at, as well as adding variety to their diet. Bread can

be fed, but is best for an occasional treat, as the hens will tend to

fill up on this to the detriment of more nutritious feed. It’s also

worth remembering that, if you use commercially produced bread, it will

contain salt, and perhaps other additives.


(c) Chickens need grit to help grind food in their gizzards. Crushed

oyster shell will provide a calcium supplement if egg shells are too


Q8 (c) Grey dust on

ledges in the henhouse is a sign of red mite. Other signs are chickens

being unwilling to go into the henhouse at night,and a decline in egg

laying. Prompt action is needed, as red mite will suck the birds’ blood,

causing anaemia and even death. There are proprietary sprays and agents

to deal with mite, but mite are notoriously hard to eradicate, and both

birds and house will need thorough treatments.


(a) The ‘wrinkled stocking’ look is likely to be caused by the scaly

leg mite, and this also shouldn’t be ignored. The scales on the hen’s

legs are pushed up and chalky crusts can be seen underneath. The hen

will be very itchy and uncomfortable, and may even become lame.

Proprietary treatments are available, although many poultry keepers have

their own methods. 


(b) Chickens need dust baths to clean themselves. Free-range hens will

make their own (often in the lawn!), but confined chickens will need to

have a dust bath provided. Excessive dust bathing may be a sign of lice

or mites.

Q11 (b) Back

feathers can be lost due to the cockerel’s attentions, especially if he

singles out a particular hen as his ‘favourite,’ or if too many

cockerels are kept. Keep an eye on the feather loss, as the unfortunate

hen may be bullied or pecked by the others if her skin is exposed or

broken. It may be wise to put her in a separate enclosure for a rest if

the problem persists.

Q12 (c)

A broody hen will puff herself up, and squawk peevishly if moved. When

set down, she may slump on the ground for a few moments, before suddenly

springing to life and rushing off to feed and drink – usually shrieking


Q13 (c) It’s

good for both the hen and the eggs if she leaves the nest at least once a

day for a few minutes. Often hens do this naturally, but some need to

be carefully removed from the eggs – make sure she’s done a dropping

before putting her back. On the day when the eggs are expected to hatch,

it’s best to leave the hen alone.


(b) Hens’ eggs take 21 days to hatch from when incubation starts (not

from when they are laid). Bantam eggs may hatch a couple of days

earlier, while guinea fowl and duck eggs take 28 days.


(a) There are nearly always excess cockerels in a clutch of eggs, and

unless the breed is auto-sexing, this probably won’t become evident

until they start to mature. Depending on the breed, they may make good

table birds (some might not be worth the trouble), otherwise a

responsible solution must be found. Occasionally good homes can be found

for surplus male birds, but they are often difficult to place, and care

should be taken that their welfare isn’t compromised. Keeping several

cockerels with the flock will often lead to fights, which in some cases

will be to the death. The hens will also find too much male attention

exhausting, and may stop laying.


(c) Broodiness can be discouraged by putting the hen in a slatted or

wire bottomed pen (making sure she has food and water and is safe from

predators). This will make it more difficult for her to sit, and stop

her interfering with the other hens and their eggs. Some breeds are very

determined, so it may take a while for the message to sink in. Late

summer is not an ideal time of year for a hen to start incubating eggs.


(a) Some hens hardly lose any feathers during their moult, whereas

others look as if they’ve been through a wind tunnel. Although loss of

feathers may be due to many causes, if the hens seem otherwise well,

it’s likely to be due to moulting, which usually occurs in late summer

or autumn. Moulting takes a lot out of the hen, and she will usually

stop laying.

Q18 (b) Once

the hens are asleep, it is easy to take them gently from the perch, and

while they are in darkness they will usually remain quiet. Chasing hens

is counter productive, especially if they are free range, as they are

extremely difficult to catch, and the stress will be harmful (both for

them and for you).


(a) There will be times when a hen has to be put down, and ideally the

owner should be able to perform this task correctly and humanely (there

are courses available). If this isn’t possible, the hen should be taken

to the vet for despatch. A sick or injured animal should never be left

to suffer.

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